Her name may be better known in the punk and DIY ‘zine scenes than it is among the comics community writ large, but Janelle Hessig has been at it for a long time. A foundational figure in the 1990s East Bay DIY movement, Hessig’s seminal Tales Of Blarg was more than a product of its times, it’s proven to be downright timeless, and in recent years she’s introduced the broader public to the talents of Liz Suburbia, among others, via her Gimme Action publishing imprint — which has also been home to some of her own cartooning. In other words, she’s been around — but her work never gets old.
As evidence for this assertion I offer Big Punk, her latest uniquely-formatted (it’s more, shall we say, horizontally-oriented than you’d typically expect) ‘zine that comes our way courtesy of Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, a publisher that’s helped carry on the punk ethos that Hessig was on the ground floor of. It’s a bright, vibrant, funny, fairly simple (and I mean that as a compliment), contemporary take on “be careful what you wish for” tropes that looks and feels very much like something a 20-year-old punk would come up with —but when you peek below the surface, you’ll see just how crucial a part experience plays in crafting a story like this.
And I mean that as a compliment, as well, just in case there was any doubt. Hessig’s skilled linework and finely-honed storytelling “chops” belie a veteran’s sensibilities throughout, but there’s an ever-youthful energy to this well-paced “back to the land” cautionary tale with a twist that will likely never end up feeling stale simply because, hey, good cartooning never does. And in this book, Hessig serves up some damn good cartooning, indeed.
Part of this story’s youthful “vibe” is certainly down to the fact that it features a youthful protagonist dealing with youthful problems — the most pressing being the gentrification of San Francisco stand-in “Fog City” and the Silicon Valley yuppie invasion that comes part and parcel with that both pricing and, more crucially, annoying her out of her own home — but the manner in which Hessig shows not only empathy with, but intuitive understanding of, the mindset of a person a couple of decades her junior is uncanny indeed, and lends these entire proceedings an authenticity that a person who actually was that age would have difficulty replicating on the page. This then, folks, is the real deal.
Of course, a high-priced techie shithole would be the kind of place anyone would be glad to leave in their rear view mirror regardless of age, but as soon as our ostensible heroine gets in the sticks with the hicks, she finds she’s desperately dependent upon the wares those same rich nerds make their living developing and promulgating, which is a bitter enough irony in and of itself — yet it’s one that is quickly shuffled to the bottom of the deck of her problems once a hairy visitor from the woods makes its presence known. Maybe the city’s not so bad after all?
There’s plenty to relate to in these 18 pages, and it’s communicated in eminently relatable fashion, but if you’re not in the mood for anything too terribly serious — much less anything too terribly self-serious — you’ll be pleased to know that, topical as Hessig’s mini is, she never gets preachy, and does a terrific job of showing how getting too high up on one’s high horse inevitably sets one up for a fall. This is an obvious enough little morality play, no question about that — but it’s also obviously really good and balances out thoughtfulness with chuckles in perfect proportion. Try that, ya pesky up-and-coming funnybook makers!
Big Punk is available for $5.00 directly from Silver Sprocket at https://store.silversprocket.net/collections/comicsandzines/products/big-punk-by-janelle-hessig
Review wrist check – today I’m riding my Longines “Legend Diver” paired with an Ocean Crawler “Vintage Crazy Horse” leather strap. I’m a compulsive strap-switcher, I admit it, but I like this combination so well that I may just leave these together for awhile.